Re: (longish) The Mysterious Disappearance of Verb Aspect

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Apr 14 1998 - 14:21:48 EDT

At 12:19 PM -0500 4/14/98, wrote:
>I affirm your assertion that yours is the prevalent view, and agree
>that the augment is a past indicator. You do not agree with me that
>the Sigma always indicates the future, nor that the Alpha is privative
>and abstracts "Time" from the classic aorist 'tense'. If ALL linear
>time is covered by the non-aorist tenses, then what is left for the
>It's that simple...

You are missing a very fundamental point, George. The so-called "tenses" of
Greek are not fundamentally about time as such but about the way action is
viewed, as completed (perfect: APOTEQNHKEN hO PAULOS "Paul is dead"), in
process (progressive or present system: APOQNHSKEI hO PAULOS "Paul is
dying" or APEQNHSKEN "Paul was dying"), or as a complete action (aorist:
APEQANEN hO PAULOS "Paul died"). In the indicative (with the augment) the
aorist describes a complete action in past time, but we could conceivably
show by imperatives the real difference between an aorist and a progressive
of the same verb--outside the indicative that basic linkage to past time is
NOT determinative for the aorist, just as surely as it IS when the aorist
is indicative). So the imperatives:

 APOQNHSKE: "Start dying!" or "Go on and keep dying!" or "Die again and again!"
 APOQANE: "Die! (right now and all at once)" "Get dead!"

But it is a fundamental mistake to look at the Greek Present, Imperfect,
Aorist, and Perfect primarily in terms of the TIME of an event to which
they refer. The augmented indicatives do refer to the past and the future
tense does refer to the future, but outside of the indicative mood, the
different verb systems refer describe the way the action is viewed, not
when the action takes place.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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